Autism warning signs can appear in very young children. What to look for in toddlers that could indicate need for screening and testing for autism.

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5 Signs of Autism in Toddlers


(NOVEMBER 2013) Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are among the fastest growing medical conditions in children. Currently, one in 88 children have ASD, a 23% increase since the last study in 2009, according to the Centers of Disease Control.

Physicians typically won’t diagnose a toddler with autism until they’re 3 years old. There’s no medical test for the diagnosis; instead, it’s a series of behavioral exercises your physician will walk through with your toddler to determine if they’re autistic. That means there’s a lot you can do at home if you think your toddler has autism.

As with most medical problems, the earlier you detect and start treating autism, the better chance your toddler has for living a normal life. You’re the first person to notice if your toddler is displaying any unusual behaviors, so keep your eye out on any of the following, as they could be signs of autism in your toddler.

Lack of responsiveness

Lack of responding can be one the earliest signs of autism in your toddler. It’s not so much that abnormal behavior is happening; it’s that things young toddlers should do, yours doesn’t. This includes things like:

  • Doesn’t respond when you’re talking to her
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Doesn’t respond to cuddling or initiate physical contact with you

Difficulty with social interactions

Toddlers with autism have a hard time socializing with other children or picking up on social cues that others may get easily. If your toddler would rather be by himself, it could be a sign of autism. Other social interaction problems could be:

  • Isn’t interested in things happening around him
  • Hard time connecting with others and doesn’t play in groups
  • Playing with toys in another way than they are intended

Repetitive behavior

Repetitive behavior is a common sign of autism in toddlers.  This can be shown in things like:

  • Had flapping, snapping fingers, spinning in circles or head banging
  • Lining up toys over and over again or spinning objects
  • Flicking light switches on and off
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Repeats same words over and over again

Lack of sounds or nonverbal communication

If you’re toddler isn’t speaking or only saying a few words, this could be a sign of autism. However, most toddlers with autism have trouble with nonverbal communication, too. This can be seen in things like:

  • No babbling, baby talk, cooing or even speaking full words
  • Speaks a few words but only when repeating or intimating you
  • Not picking up on nonverbal clues, like pointing
  • Doesn’t ask for help with tasks

Heightened or unusual senses

This can be seen in things like:

  • Strong reaction to loud noises
  • Speaks with an odd rhythm or pitch, like ending every sentence like she was asking a questions
  • Facial expressions don’t match words

Any of the above can be signs of autism in toddlers, so if you do notice these symptoms, don’t wait to start treating it. There are lots of exercises you can do to help young children with autism. Additionally, Autism Speaks has a checklist for helping you screen your child.

However, because autism affects each child differently, it’s likely you won’t notice all of this happening at the same time. There may be some days when he or she shows normal behavior and other days when it’s blaringly obvious, so you need to be continually monitoring their behavior.

Young children with autism should wear medical ID bracelets indicating their condition. This can help educators, caregivers, emergency responders and others better understand how to communicate with and care for the child.